1. LISTENING: Camille O'Sullivan singing "Look, Mummy"
The doormat lay on the sidewalk. In a mix of fonts, it welcomed me to the Irish Arts Center. I got my ticket from a large woman squeezed into a small coat closet under the stairs. I squeezed myself into a sagging, crooked seat in the second-to-last row. Four songs in, Camille killed me with her raw, heart-wrenching performance of this raw, heart-wrenching song. When I stopped being dead, my only thought was "I wish I'd written that."
2. SEEING: Shakespeare's Henriad at Brooklyn Academy of Music in late April
I'm a Shakespeare freak. Though I'd dabbled with the Bard in high school, my habit got serious at Harvard thanks to Professor Marjorie Garber's fantastic class on his later works. Garber's swagger was infectious. She encouraged a deep, visceral engagement with the plays and with the phenomenon of "Shakespeare," in quotation marks, as he appears across the centuries.
Ever since, I've seen as many of the plays as I can, wherever I can -- in theaters large and small, in warehouses, on movie screens, on people's porches.
1. LISTENING: Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson "Alexandra Leaving"
I have a category in my head for songs like this one: Mystical. Such songs are extremely hard to pull off without sounding cheesy or over-reaching. They transport us to a strange time and place. When I first heard "Alexandra Leaving" it literally floored me. Some part of me is still down there, trying to get up.
(Want to hear other examples of this type of song? Check out: James Shelton's Lilac Wine (Jeff Buckley's version, Nina Simone's version), Kathleen Edwards's The Lone Wolf, Suzanne Vega's The Queen and the Soldier, Van Morrison's Rave On John Donne, Rickie Lee Jones's Ghost Train, and, of course, much of Tom Waits's music. You're welcome.)
2. SEEING: Jeremy Denk, piano recital at Carnegie Hall
I did not know who Jeremy Denk was until very recently and for that I am sad. His sharply articulate, often hilarious writing about his life as a musician has been an inspiration to me ever since a close friend turned me on to him. (He has a review in this week's NYT Book Review section.) In mid-April, I was lucky enough to catch his recital at Carnegie Hall. I went on a whim, in a rush, snagging a third-row seat, in full view of his hands on the keyboard.
Though Denk began and ended the afternoon concert with the familiar (Bach's English Suite No. 3 in G minor and Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat Major), the show was really about the in-between: a quirky, winding tour of his mind cogitating on the word "ragtime."
I'm always doing some kind of drawing in one or more of my journals. Here's one I did while practicing my guitar.
1. LISTENING: Lori Cullen's "Careful How You Break My Heart"
When I first heard Lori Cullen play her guitar and sing, I said to myself, "I'm gonna make that girl my friend."